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Lack of gritting footpaths and cycle tracks so chronic it is raised in the Dail

The frosty weather in the last week with little letup in most parts of the country has brought about questions of why councils are mainly only treating carriageways, not footpaths and cycle paths.

Yesterday in the Dail, Jennifer Whitmore, a Social Democrats TD for Wicklow said: “The cold snap has recently resulted in significant difficulties for people in being able to get out and about. Local authorities grit the roads but there is no provision for them to grit paths and cycleways.”

She added: “Ironically, over recent days, I have seen parents driving their children to school because it is not safe for their children to walk to school. Considering that the stated policy of the Government is for active travel, is it time to direct councils to ensure high-priority paths and cycleways are gritted?”

Taoiseach Micheál Martin responded: “Deputy Whitmore asked about gritting. I am assured by the Minister that footpaths generally can be gritted. The local authorities have been given instructions on active travel. We can look at that with the local authorities. It is an important point in terms of the safety of pedestrians and cyclists.”

Colm Byrne, a geriatrician, on Saturday tweeted that gritting footpaths is a public health measure. He was quote tweeting Dublin City Council which had been tweeting about treating the carriageways of the city. People keep replying looking for actions on footpaths, but it seemed to be falling on deaf ears.

Byrne said: “Please, for the sake of preventing a surge in fractures, please grit the footpaths. A hip fracture has a 25% mortality at 1 year. Gritting the footpaths is a public health measure.”

Reports vary around the country. Galway hardly treats any footpaths according to one tweeter. Another said Cork City Council was “ahead of the curve” in gritting footpaths, “some footpaths” adds another.

There has been some change from councils after pressure from politicians and the public to act. For example, Dublin City Council officials late last week or possibly even over the weekend were telling councillors there was no way it could treat footpaths, it just didn’t have the resources it claimed.

Since then it has been busy tweeting out images of staff salting and gritting footpaths.

Town centres in some locations are well treated, but suburban areas are more hit-and-miss, especially with paths in the shade that haven’t had any chance to melt over the last week.

The day before Dublin City Council changed tack, Cllr Donna Cooney, a Green Party councillor for Clontarf, said: “It is frustrating and makes a mockery of the transport hierarchy. We are supposed to be supporting active transport over private car use. Even if the objective as stated in response to my correspondence, is to keep the roads clear for public transport then how do people get to the bus stops or trains stations?”

Cllr Cooney said: “The narrative now is also that DCC do not have enough salt grit to cover roads and pavements nor the manpower and they are unlikely to be able to supply to residents groups to clear their pavements. As we have a policy to clear leaves from pavements and cycleways with active citizen participation why is ice removal policy different?”

Cllr Joan Hopkins, a Socs Dems councillor for Howth-Malahide, on Monday, said: “I raised this issue this evening [at a council meeting and we were told it’s not possible to clear 1,700km of footpaths. It is possible, we just need to reprioritise. If any council can Fingal can. Let’s prioritise women, walkers, schools, public transport, wheelchair users, and cyclists.”

On Friday, she said: “Currently we do not salt/grit footpaths, only roads. If we are serious about prioritising walking and cycling (and we say we are) then this will have to change. I’ll be proposing a change of policy on this asap.”

A member of the public replied with a link to an article titled “Can Snow Clearing Be Sexist?“. It starts with a reference from Caroline Criado Perez’s book, Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men. It outlines how Swedish officials found snow clearance which focused on roadways before paths typically benefited men over women.

Cllr Hopkins quote tweeted it and said: “The last time I said parking on paths was sexist, a lot of people had a go. I’ll risk the pushback again because I think this is true. Once you know better, you do better and so our priorities must change. ‘79% of pedestrian injuries occurred in winter, of which 69% were women’.”

Cllr Oisín O’Connor, a Green councillor for Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown said: “The winter maintenance programme here in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown has been executed as planned, with council staff working overtime outdoors in Sub-Zero conditions every night. The main carriageways of all main roads in our county have been treated with grit and this has helped keep public transport and general traffic moving safely.”

“I was happy that following my request on Friday, the council announced that the busier footpaths in our county would also be gritted and cleared such as at schools, public transport hubs and village/town centres. In future, these need to be a part of our plans so that when these kinds of weather conditions happen, our teams have the direction to treat footpaths in tandem with the carriageways of the roads. I will also be asking that cycle tracks and off-road shared paths are also included in this,” he said.

The issue of treating snow and ice on footpaths and cycle tracks is one which other countries are struggling with too. Cllr Clyde Loakes, a councillor in Waltham Forest, a suburb of London, tweeted about snow ploughing cycle tracks and said: “This is about cultural and system change, as well as infrastructure.”

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